There are two forms of courage in this world. One demands that we jump into action with our armor on. The other demands that we strip ourselves bare-naked and surrender. Bravery is a curious thing.
From “Spiritual Graffiti” by Jeff Brown
Open vulnerability has always been my natural flow. Boldly asserting myself, not so much. The result? A mighty river was dammed up and exploited to the point of stagnation and near death.
It’s been 15 years since I cried out in desperation to Whatever God There Is, asking Them if I’d ever experience true freedom and love in all fullness. They promised I would but that it would be at a terrible price and asked if I was willing. I said yes.
From that moment on, the river began to flow again, gradually increasing in strength and filling the massive reservoir behind the dam. I’ve waited in faith for Them to reveal when to blow up the man-made restraining barrier and reclaim my natural intuitive flow as everything I AM. That time is now.
Everyone who lived comfortably downstream at my expense has been given ample warning and freedom to move on into whatever life they want for themselves apart from me.
Originally written and posted September 2016, a month before plunging into full awareness and the fight for my life and the lives of my children.
I made my bed, and I sleep like a baby
With no regrets, and I don’t mind saying
It’s a sad, sad story
When a mother will teach her daughter
That she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world
Can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they’d write me a letter
Saying that I better
Shut up and sing
Or my life will be over? – Dixie Chicks
Once upon a time, we were offered 6 figures to climb the corporate church ladder and be entertainers in an even bigger and better church than we were already in. We turned it down. It’s quite a story from there.
The short of it, the second we stopped singing at the church we’d remained loyal to in order to minister with integrity, they broke every promise they’d given of support, disowned and ghosted us, leaving our family of 6 hanging with nothing.
We kept our baby church alive as best we could for 3 years right under the shadow of the Big Bro Church. I’ve really got to hand it to them. They were (and continue to be) absolutely amazing at pretending not only that we don’t exist, but that we never did.
Jimmy is still there. I couldn’t take it another second and fled to where the love is with my family.
So imagine, if you will, what it was like for us last summer, as we were making the tough decision to put our church baby on hospice, when my husband received a text from the former boss who’d wanted us so badly 5 years prior, demanding he silence his wife.
I was saying dangerous and heretical things.
Here I was thinking I was nothing to no one. Turns out I was a very Scary Girl.
Alright Bros of God…you only want to hear my voice if it’s singing?
“I WANT TO BE HEARD!” I roared, slamming my fists on the bed. It was November 2012 and we were pastors…or at least about to be. My then husband of 21 years and father of our 4 children had just asked me what I wanted. It was not the first time, and wouldn’t be the last, he would ask me this question, but it was the first time I’d ever responded with such force and raw honesty. It obviously shook him, which struck me as odd. He was always so fucking sure of himself and aggressively went after whatever HE wanted. How could it be that my daring to do the same was perceived as a threat, especially when all I wanted was to have a voice and a say in our future as a family? The fear in his eyes was unmistakable.
At the time, I suffered from the massive delusion that humans are mostly rational creatures (we are not) and that if I was able to clearly explain the reality of my experience, the powers that be within Church World would understand the harm they were causing my family and be motivated out of love to stop (they did not).
I have a thousand tales to tell of my rise out of a lifetime of exploitation and abuse within Evangelical Church World and my 25-year marriage to a malignant narcissist. Eight years ago, my conscience clawed its way to the surface and demanded to be heard. Today, it demands of me to speak out against the current plague of genocidal sociopathy terrorizing us all and to give voice to victims of domestic abuse – which, under the current fascist regime, is every American.
The biggest challenge for me over the last four years has been to wait in faith for Her (my intuition/Whatever God There Is) to give the green light as to when and how to begin to tell my story. “When” became clear upon the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “How” to unravel and share enough information to fill several books is to simply begin and say what happened.
I was born and raised within a system that insisted its ideas of God were absolute truth. I learned very early on as a child that to exercise autonomy or freedom of thought or expression brought out fear, anger and condemnation from those I loved and trusted most. This is the root of my super codependent skill of stuffing my honest self deep down so as not to make waves or cause anyone the slightest bit of inconvenience or discomfort.
As a teenager, I managed around this by compartmentalizing. I dutifully complied with home and church life with my parents, but school and my social life away from them was my own. I spoke as I pleased, engaged in relationships as I pleased, and found I preferred the company of *gasp* non-Christians. I was most happy and self-fulfilled then. But I would soon discover “the system” that considered my personal freedom of mind, body and soul to be a threat extended well beyond Church World and permeated everything and everyone.
My autonomous safe haven and all its gains were wiped out on my 18th birthday by a fledgling narcissist Lost Boy. It is the most important story I have to tell when the time is right, but for purposes of overview…
The Lost Boy was enraged when I dared to take a stab at being single and unattached to any boy, and he took it upon himself to make me pay with a gaslighting intimidation and triangulation assault that utterly crushed and disabled me. I was coerced into dating his sycophant buddy who I barely knew and had no interest in.
That boy was nice enough and not a monster himself, but he wasn’t good to me either and not at all what I wanted. The Lost Boy had me convinced that I was selfish and entitled and had been responsible for the conflict and that I would destroy this boy if I broke up with him. I saw no way out. I spent the last four months of my senior year of high school shut down and numb to my own reality, torn away and isolated from my true friends. I lost myself right under everyone’s noses and no one could see it.
The boy I never wanted to be with would die just a few months later. He fell asleep at the wheel returning to his college after a surprise (uninvited and unwanted) visit to see me at mine.
The trauma left me primed and ready for the next tag team of narcissist Lost Boys to descend like vultures on road kill. By very deliberate design, I couldn’t recognize them as such. I thought I was safe. I thought they were my saviors. I was at a Christian college and it was an older Christian boy who set my heart on fire.
As this particular brand of Monster is SO adept at doing, my shockingly-soon-to-be-husband along with his sidekick minion secured me with blinding speed. He proposed to me on the one-year anniversary of my previous boyfriend’s death. We secretly married in Vegas only four months after that on my 20th birthday. The red flags of his misbehavior waved furiously in the subsequent months between Vegas and our “official” very pretty, churchy church wedding. Had we not already been legally married, I probably would have had the courage to not go through with it. But, here I was again feeling like I had no choice and no way out.
The first two years of marriage while living on campus at our Christian school were marked by my husband’s meth-fueled frenzy of infidelity, neglect, and financial abuse right under my nose where I couldn’t see it. I will have much to say in later writings about what mind-fuck wizards these Monsters are at doing that.
The day I finally did see and knew I had to leave him, he hoovered me back in with the ultimate con. He “repented” and “left his life of sin” to become my hero and a Bro of God in Church World in his home town.
Fast forward four children and two decades of ministry together, and it unraveled exactly as it had begun but with infinitely more at stake. Substance abuse, infidelity (criminal in nature), financial and sexual abuse…brought into my house, triangulating and manipulating his own children and enabled by his network of minions – the Bros and Biddies of God – right under my nose where I couldn’t see it.
Except I DID…see it, know it, feel it every minute of every day since I lost myself at 18 years old. But I couldn’t afford to acknowledge or bring it to the surface until my children and I were safely 2000 miles away from him and the entire system of abuse that was backing him up. She (my intuition/Whatever God There Is) knew he would kill us all if I confronted and exposed him directly and there was no one who was going to believe me.
And so ends the first of a thousand stories I will tell.
So you’ve had your heart ripped open and torn to shreds, been physically and financially exploited and devastated, and now…here comes the smear campaign. If you are going to escape, there’s no escaping this classic hallmark of the malignant narcissist. It’s not enough to simply cut you open, they must fling fistfuls of excrement into the gaping wounds they inflict and recruit as many others as they can to join in. The only saving grace one has in breaking free from one of these things is in how utterly predictable they are in their pattern of behavior. They do not and cannot deviate from it.
The smear campaign is the absolute worst in terms of pain, isolation and humiliation.
However, the absolute best is on the other side once you’ve identified all the people in your life that need to go. For me, it’s been 98% of everyone I knew in 20+ years of church world. Gone. I do not miss any of them any more than one would miss cancer once in remission. The only real loss is in having to cut off some lovely genuine people with social/familial ties to the toxic ones. Losing them is like surgically removing a margin of healthy tissue around the cancer to ensure you’ve gotten it all.
My life is finally my own and I can breathe.
My children are happy because I am finally happy and free and sane. Every relationship that remains or is established going forward is healthy and REAL.
The enormity of the injustice and cruelty hurts like hell, but if you survive it without becoming the monster yourself…nothing can touch or stop you.
Nothing. It’s becoming my everything.
Leaving a Person with Narcissism: Here Comes the Smear Campaign
It took FOREVER to finally leave the person in your life with narcissism, only to realize that once you made that fateful decision, your name became mud.
Your ex is not going to let you go without a fight. You’re going to be villainized like you never experienced before the breakup.
All your friends and family will hear how crazy, unbalanced, manipulative, and narcissistic you are. Your ex will be sure to strike first; you may not want to strike at all, but your hand may seem forced.
The smear campaign of a person with narcissism can be so convincing. Since, throughout the relationship, you mainly kept your mouth shut about the problems you were having, no one really saw this coming. When your ex starts to talk negatively about you, with feelings of hurt and strong conviction, others may be inclined to believe what they hear. They had no idea how “crazy” you were, but now, if they think about it, they do remember the time you did x, y, or z.
Like many people with narcissistic qualities, your ex can be a master manipulator. They can turn on the sad eyes and tears, convincing everyone how dearly you are loved by them and how clueless they are about why it ended so abruptly. Maybe it’s menopause or a midlife crisis on your part. Obviously, something is wrong with you.
The smear campaign may even work with your children. The children have become so accustomed to an abusive relationship that the concept of scapegoating seems normal. Blaming and villainizing others has been modeled as acceptable. They may see nothing abnormal about making you a target of wrath. And since they love the parent with narcissism, they likely want to win their favor, which makes it all the more easy for them to join in the campaign.
The Anatomy of a Smear Campaign
Here’s how a good smear campaign works:
It generally contains an element of truth. For instance, if the person with narcissism complains you abandoned the relationship, well, this is true. They will likely go on and on about how all they ever wanted was to love you and stay with you, but you, in your evilness, flippantly left the relationship—for no reason other than you don’t care about anything other than yourself and can’t keep your commitments.
It is done with implication. The person with narcissism may say something like, “I don’t want to sound mean, but certain people, who shall remain nameless, have me worried.” The person with narcissism may imply that, no matter how hard they have tried to help you or deal with your issues, you are irreparable. Some people—you being one of them—are just hopeless. Implication can be a very effective tool. Those listening come to their conclusions about you based on this subtly nefarious input.
It is also done overtly. Sometimes the person with narcissism just comes right out and says it: you are a no-good lunatic! They will tell story after story about all the awful things you’ve done. They will take every vulnerability you’ve revealed to them and use it now, along with made-up information, to tarnish your reputation and slander your name.
It is relentless. No one holds a grudge quite like a person with narcissism. They can carry a silent treatment to the grave just as well as they can carry a smear campaign. They are relentless. You may be shocked and dismayed by the battleground you find yourself navigating. Never have you encountered such an enemy.
How to Deal with Narcissistic Attacks
What can you do if you find yourself in this position? Here are some tried-and-true suggestions from those who have gone before you:
Learn to value yourself above anyone else’s opinion. The only way a smear campaign can work is if you allow it to. If people choose to go along with false accusations about you, then yes, it hurts—but you don’t have to let it destroy you. You can learn to not care what others think about you.
Yes, you do deserve defense, but being caught in the trap of trying to get others (and the person with narcissism) to see your good heart can become a never-ending battle. It is easier to simply tell yourself, “They aren’t going to see,” and move on.
Remember why you left the relationship in the first place. You were devalued and discarded. You did not leave to continue to be disrespected by others. If others are going to jump on your ex’s narcissistic bandwagon and join their hater campaign, simply walk away and remind yourself that you deserve respect.
Resist the urge to defend yourself. While this may be easier said than done, it is an important concept. Remember when you were in your relationship? You likely felt defensive often. You probably tried to explain yourself thousands of times, to no avail. You ended up being caught in all kinds of “gotcha” traps. So now that you’re out of the relationship, understand that this person continues to try to control your emotions in similar fashion—causing you to doubt your motives, your good nature, even your sanity. Yes, you do deserve defense, but being caught in the trap of trying to get others (and the person with narcissism) to see your good heart can become a never-ending battle. It is easier to simply tell yourself, “They aren’t going to see,” and move on.
Make a preemptive strike. In other words, make friends with your “enemies.” Let them get to know you personally. It’s a lot harder to hate someone you know well. If you can befriend the people your ex is targeting for their campaign, you may be able to affect some damage control. If the people being targeted are family (including your children), tell them your side of the story. Let them know you are the target of a smear campaign and to not believe what your ex is saying about you. Inform them your ex is creating “spin” to the point that what they are saying is fiction and a waste of time to believe. Be forthright, convincing, and firm. State your side once, then let it go.
Spend your time well. No matter what others think or do, you really have no power over them. The only person you have power over is yourself. Regardless of what others do with their thoughts and actions toward or against you, you cannot control them. You may be able to influence them, but that is all. Don’t spend a lot of your precious energy trying to make others see the truth. Spend time with people who don’t judge you—those who value you and help you feel supported and loved. Enjoy your life!
When I read your FB text last night, I instantly related.
You are so consumed with your own pain that it makes me feel like I’m not your [relationship descriptor redacted].
Get on some meds you psycho bitch!!
No I am not [wonderful] but I think I am kind, and you were kind to me so I hope you will find peace and happiness in the future.
No time and in no way is it appropriate to be rude, unkind, cutting, demeaning, speaking out of rage and anger, and belittling others. I have seen you do each of these things with a measure of generosity. I have watched you shred those who even mildly suggest that you’re out of line.
Hi JD, I just wanted to say “Me Too”. My emotions are too raw to say anything beyond that, but ME TOO sister.
You need to get off Facebook and find some real friends.
I have a whole bunch of emotions there for you my friend. Anger, sadness, frustration to name a few. I haven’t been publicly posting on your timeline but have been following to some degree. You can – no, will – rise above this and find your own sense of self and all that entails.
Hello, my name is Jennifer and I’m a ridiculously fearful avoidant personality in love with an absurdly dismissive avoidant personality. Together we are a textbook perfect psychological shit storm.
For me to finally understand exactly how fucked up we are and in what ways is, quite frankly, a massive relief. Every single pillar of certainty that I’d been led to believe was unassailable has toppled in recent years. Throughout this process, I’ve been clinging to what I considered to be the central pillar, convinced it was the one that would never, could never, should never fail. Then it too began to crack and pitch and I could no longer depend on it for safety and comfort.
And that’s the sickest/saddest part about the whole thing- it had never provided me the stability and protection I’ve always craved. No, this “central” pillar never stood still. It was perpetually restless and roaming, resistant to anything and everything that sought its support. Yet I’d been conditioned to believe that it must be that for me and had convinced myself that the reason it wasn’t was entirely my responsibility. If I threw every bit of myself into “supporting” this pillar, i.e. clutching ever tighter as it jumped and swayed precariously, feverishly patching cracks to keep up appearances (we’re good…we’re solid…we’re fine), it would eventually be still and strong and a source of stability and safety around which the rest of my life could nobly function.
It’s actually quite the comical visual. Everything else in my world had long ago disintegrated into rubble and ashes, yet here I was still insisting it was right and good to chain myself to the remaining wobbly and wild pillar that wasn’t even holding anything up and was aggressively trying to shake me off for my own good as it approached terminal collapse.
Up until 3 days ago, choking on spite in spite of what seemed like the never-going-to-end 9.0 temblor that had disintegrated everything I thought should be but never really was, this remained my unshakable belief –
If this one falls, I will die. If this one goes, I’m an ultimate failure. If this one crumbles, I’m the biggest shameful idiot there ever was.
I would not allow myself to let go until the shaking stopped. My God, my God…please MAKE IT STOP! I’m so exhausted and spent and empty…make it stop…make it stop…make it stop…
Then let go, you dear delusional girl. LET GO of the thing that is shaking so violently and let it crumble. You won’t die if you let go…but you surely will if you keep trying to hold it together. Let go, Love. Let go. Let everything die so that you can finally live.
And I did…right there standing in front of the kitchen sink doing the dishes. I saw it. I understood fully and gave myself permission to do what up until that very second had been unthinkable – give up on my marriage, my idea of what this thing is supposed to be and let it collapse all the way.
The crushing, debilitating panic instantly vaporized. There was no crash, no boom, no implosion, only instant relief and supreme stillness. In that divine stillness such fullness, warmth, nurturing and belonging.
Oh heeeeeey, there They are, Whatever God There Is, or rather – there I AM. Then it began bubbling out of me. A wide, wild grin took over my face followed by unconstrained giggling before finally erupting into deep, somewhat maniacal laughter. I’d imagine it’s the same euphoria one would feel upon realizing they and their loved ones were alive and safe after a disaster, even if they’d lost everything else to it.
And that’s where I am. It’s all gone. All done. Everything, and I do mean everything, that was but actually wasn’t, is rubble. It’s sunrise and I’m getting my first look at the scene after the quake storm (as my oldest Big used to call it when she was little) and I’m happy. Giddy, in fact. I’m in no hurry to clean up or rebuild. I can’t even think about that right now or what it might look like. All I know is that I don’t need to know anything and the future doesn’t have to be any certain way. There is no should be or should have been. There are no supposed to be’s.
Will a couple of middle-aged, highly avoidant personalities find a new way of being together now that everything has fallen apart? Yes…they will…in some capacity, but I no longer have any expectation for what that must look like nor sense of obligation that I should. Whether what is to be exceeds my wildest dreams of fulfillment or is something wholly undesirable that I never imagined for myself or my family (reality is certain to be somewhere on the spectrum in between)…I AM going to be OK.
There only IS what is, and right now is sacred and pure and I’m not about to rush through this gift of serenity and stillness in the aftermath of the Great Reduction. I’m going to rest here, just me and Whatever God There Is, who have always manifested Themself to me in reality, and find the comfort and security I crave with Them as I laugh/cry in unhinged relief as the encroaching light incrementally reveals all that is now after the shaking. I’m alive, goddammit. I’m alive…and for the first time in my life not lonely and afraid.
Oh, there I am. You lovely, demented girl. Take a beat and then let’s get to work building up YOU – the central pillar – strong and true. Who knows what beauty these hands are capable of creating with what IS now that they’ve finally released their death grip on what never was.
I did everything I knew to do, everything I’m supposed to do, and once again, it just doesn’t fucking matter. It does not matter what I do, think, say, not do, not think, not say…the only one who matters, the only one I want has left me isolated in the horrible void – the upside down – to desperately try and fill his own with ???…whatever it is today.
I’ve only attended church twice as a nonprofessional in the last few years, and both times were in Nashville. Just about this time last year, I made a trip out to see my oldest kids and used the opportunity to meet my blogging brother, John Pavlovitz, as he was speaking at an LGBTQ-affirming church in Franklin. John and I already had a legit friendship/kinship established and had a blast finally meeting in person.
The next day, my daughter Kathryn and I made our way to church to hear John speak. It was in that service during the worship time (church-speak translation: music concert/congregational karaoke) that I had quite the jarring epiphany.
I knew it was time to pull the plug on Four Creeks.
That in and of itself wasn’t the thing. We’d been coming to the end of everything for a while; people, money, sanity…will to live. Jimmy and I had set out to have Four Creeks be a church community where absolutely anyone of any persuasion, background, identity, ethnicity was valued and welcome to participate in absolutely every facet of church life. We did exactly that. It just turns out there wasn’t a market for it where we were, at least not one we were capable of tapping into by ourselves without resources and support. We had zero of either after the church that originally sent us out yanked everything out from under us very early on. We knew from the start we were dead walking. It was just a matter of time.
As I looked around the sanctuary at the beautiful diversity of humans worshiping together and the genuine love and enthusiastic community all the congregants shared, I welled up with thankfulness and awe that it did exist somewhere and that I was there to witness it. That Sunday last October, seeing the dream in vivacious reality in Nashville in stark contrast to our terminally ill child at home, I knew the time had come.
There was only a relieved resignation in that thought. It was the next one that I had never prepared myself to consider. If Four Creeks ceased to be, if our 20 years as professional Christians truly was coming to an end, what now? What kind of church would we want to join and in what capacity? Then came the epiphany.
This was the exact moment I allowed myself to BE what I’d already been inside for a decade in Church World – DONE.
As glad as I was that this church existed and that so many people were being loved, valued and finding value in it, all I could think as I was immersed in the familiarity of a typical worship service that just about anyone else from my evangelical tribe would find familiar and appealing (except for worshiping along side a married gay couple or 20) was, “I don’t need this. I don’t want this for myself.”
Having been on the production end of church my entire adult life and living behind the veil working with pastors and church boards as employers (dear, wise friends when we were lucky; dangerously insecure and immature mega jerks when we weren’t), I’m basically ruined for the entire church machine. I can’t just sit back and enjoy the show. I haven’t had the luxury of finding value in church from that side of things since I was a child.
I get other people finding value in the routine, their preferred music (whether it be modern praise band, hymns or liturgy) or looking to their favorite pastor to inspire them. I just don’t. Having been raised in that world with a view behind the curtain, my oldest children don’t either. My youngest have zero concept of it as all they know of church is Four Creeks, which by both design and fate had no programming or any traditions to speak of other than simply meeting, breaking bread together and studying scripture and its practical applications with integrity. Kathryn and Ryan have since expressed just how relieved they are that their younger siblings won’t be raised in the church culture they were (before Four Creeks). I am too.
I’ve heard a lot of people admit that even if they themselves don’t really want to go to church, they feel they should for the sake of their children. I’m just weird, I guess. I told my therapist that it is for the sake of my children that I don’t want to go to church ever again.
That was last Thursday. Three days later I went to church with my children…because I wanted to…and it was profoundly healing and wonderful.